Father Hanly’s beautiful homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, is about hospitality.
Readings for Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
- First Reading: Genesis 18:1-10
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
- Second Reading: Colossians 1:24-28
- Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
There are two very famous hospitality parts of the Old and the New Testament given to us today, and they join themselves together, and there’s about one thousand eight hundred years between Jesus and Abraham.
As you know, Abraham is the father of our faith. We’re in the book of Genesis, the very first book, and Abraham has been promised that he would have a son.
He has followed God and left his home and his family and everybody behind. And for this, he ends up at a certain part near present day Jerusalem at a place close to the desert called Mamre.
And at Mamre there is a terebinth, which is a huge oak tree, and there he sets up his tent because, in those days, Abraham the father of Israel were all in tents, they moved about from place to place.
And he’s sitting outside his tent, probably under the oak tree because it’s very hot as you know in that place, even hotter than here in Hong Kong, and he sees three men standing outside and he looks at them.
And they’re strangers and they’re travellers, because that part of the Near East people were travelling back and forth all the time – traders and merchants and also lots of people changing from one area to another.
And he sees the three standing there and he runs out to them and he falls on his knees before them, which is an Asian sign of great reverence in the old days, and he says to them, “Would you do me the favour of staying here with me and I will give you water to wash your feet.”
Remember Jesus at the beginning of the Passover supper, water to wash your feet, and Jesus, to show reverence and respect for his disciples, washed their feet.
And then, when they came in and they decided that they would stay with him under the oak tree, he ran to his wife Sarah and said to begin to make some very quick cakes on the stove and I will go and find something for them, and he brings back a fatted calf and begins to cook the calf.
And they prepare a huge banquet. He is saying to them, “I just have a little bread to offer you,” but it ends up to be quite a banquet.
And as the banquet goes on, it’s Abraham who waits on them, not his servants. He himself waits on these three strangers.
And you wonder why all this fuss and attention.
Well, two reasons. Number one is, actually, if you even go the Middle East today and you find yourself out in the desert area among the Bedouins, they will treat you, if they find you walking by their house, with almost the same respect, because they know that survival in the old days, and even today, in many parts of that deserty area, depends on the hospitality of the people.
If you develop hospitality for your neighbour, it’s not a sign that you’re doing good things. It’s a sign that you recognise that you need them and they need you, and so you treat them with great respect when they come to your house and you wait upon them.
In the meantime, the men had eaten and, as they were about to go, one of them says to the other, “Where is your wife?”
And Abraham smiles and he says she’s in the tent, because, in those days, men and women did not eat together and she was busy preparing the food for them.
And so one of them turns to Abraham and says, “I will come back in one year, and in that time your wife will conceive and bear a child.”
And then the three got up from the table, thanked him and went on their way.
It was then one year later when it happened.
When Sarah heard behind the tent that she was going to give birth to a child, she knew that she was beyond the age of bearing and she laughed, and so when the child was born, Abraham and Sarah named the child Isaac and Isaac means laughter.
And so it was that Isaac, with great hope, the beginning of a people, came to Abraham.
And from that day on, the people around always said this: they said, “Abraham, unbeknownst to himself, entertained angels.”
It’s a lovely story and, from that time on, handed down to the people, a sign of if you invited someone, especially strangers, to come to your house, and you served them as Abraham served them, you did it because you never know whether, unbeknownst to yourself, you’re entertaining angels and even God Himself.
And so this is why hospitality is still a major power among many peoples, because, not only is it being kind and helpful to your neighbour, it is also knowing that you are serving God Himself.
Now we can see why the second story in today’s gospel is so important.
Because there’s Mary and Martha (Lazarus isn’t in this scripture, just Mary and Martha), Mary and Martha, friends of Jesus, living in Bethany, a stone’s throw from the temple, entertained him when he came down to Jerusalem to speak in the temple.
And he came in one day and, of course, Martha and Mary went about preparing for him, for this was the great sign of hospitality.
And Martha, who went out to meet him first and brought him home, she was busy about many things because he had brought his disciples with him and there she was, all by herself with a few servants, expected to entertain him.
And then, of course, Martha looks down at Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to him talk. And she gets a little bit upset and so she says to Jesus, “Lord, can’t you see my sister here, can’t you tell her to help me. I’m doing all of this preparing all alone.”
And instead of Jesus turning to Mary and saying, “Get up and help her,” he says, “Martha, Martha.” These are very intimate words. You can see him almost smiling: “Martha, Martha, you are so busy about so many things and worried about so many things. But,” he said, “there’s only one thing necessary and Mary has it and it will not be taken away from her.”
Kind of strange words, aren’t they? They are meant to be strange. They are meant to make you think.
What is the root of hospitality?
You see, in general, hospitality is when you invite strangers, people in need, people who have been wandering a long way, and you take them into your house and you wash their feet and you feed them.
So you are the host and the host is supposed to care for and serve those who come to his door. And so there’s a big difference between the host and the guest. The host is supposed to take care of the guest and give the guest whatever he or she needs.
This is not like inviting friends for dinner, or being kind and inviting someone in, because the host must become the slave of the guest and take on the responsibility of taking care of them.
Do you know the word hospital? The needy and sick and often forgotten people come to a hospital, and the host is the hospital and the hospital must take every one of them in and cure them and heal them and send them out again.
When we talk about hospice, it’s the same word. The host is called upon to take those who even the hospitals can no longer care for, into another place and take care of them, be their guardians, their help, love them and serve them until God takes them home.
So when Jesus comes, Jesus is the Son of God, and both Mary and, especially, Martha, who later when her brother Lazarus dies and she says, “If you were here Jesus, he would never have died,” and Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again,” and Martha says, “I know he will rise on the last day,” and then Jesus asks her, “Who do you think that I am?” and she says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God, and I know this and I put my faith in you.”
But to get back to the little dinner party that was taking place in the house of Martha and Mary…
You see, something very strange happens if you obey the rules of hospitality.
Hospitality means you, ultimately the host, become the servant; and the people you serve, become the host.
Because all the meaning of God’s life and love going out from us to other people, all of that is because we serve and, in serving, they become the cherished children of God.
And that is why Jesus says…
He’s not talking about getting up and serving. Certainly that has to be done and probably Mary does get up and help.
He is saying there is only one thing important.
And everybody says, what is that one thing that’s important?
That you allow the visitor, who is one with Jesus (remember he said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you will do to me”) and we treat the visitor, the one in need, we treat them as one with God.
And then God becomes the host, the visitor becomes the host, and we sit as disciples and learn from him.
Because the great thing we have initiated as bringing in the needy, we have found the great secret that, in accepting them, loving them and caring for them, we are accepting and loving and caring for God.
And this is what Jesus wants of his disciples, that you go to the whole world and tell them all is forgiven, there is nothing now but love.